The media and readers alike were intrigued by the recent story of Katie Lentz, a young woman trapped in her car after a serious accident who was visited by a "mystery priest."
After the "jaws of life" equipment failed to cut through the solid material of her older Mercedes despite an hour of effort, the seriously injured young woman asked rescuers to pray aloud with her. It was then that the priest appeared out of nowhere, although a mile-long section of roadway around the accident scene was closed to traffic.
Just as paradoxically, he vanished into the surrounding cornfields after praying with and anointing Katie. At the time of the (angelic?) visitation, two of the workers believed they heard the priest reassuring them to be calm, help was coming and equipment would now work -- which is just what happened.
Speculation about the priest's identity continued for several days, with some describing him as "an angel in priest's clothing," until a week later Father Patrick Dowling of Jefferson City, Miss., came forward to identify himself. Not a follower of TV or news media, he had missed the furor over the event until a fellow priest to whom he'd mentioned the anointing made the connection and the mystery was solved.
Father Dowling explained that he was just doing the ordinary work of the priesthood in ministering to the young woman. When his car was stopped by the accident, he'd parked and walked in with the anointing oil in case it was needed. The reassuring words heard by the two rescue workers were not his, he added, nor had he intended to disappear mysteriously but had moved away to allow the rescuers to work, while continuing to pray nearby until Katie was freed.
Father Dowling credited the prayers of all involved for the happy outcome, saying, "There were many people praying there ... for healing and for her safety. I was probably part of the answer to their prayers."
Some were disappointed to find that Katie's mystery priest was an ordinary person, not an angel in disguise. But isn't it true that our prayers more often are answered in ordinary ways -- the comforting words of a friend or the helping hand of a neighbor -- than in the miraculous appearance of a winged angel?
This doesn't preclude the possibility of angelic visitation. Scripture is replete with angelic appearances, from the glory of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael to Jesus' mention of guardian angels that attend each child. The angels often appear in answer to prayer, sent by God to protect, defend and guide us, whether clothed in glorious array or in the guise of a humble stranger.
As I write this, Pope Francis is leading a worldwide prayer for peace for war-torn Syria. Just as those at the accident scene responded to Katie's request to "pray aloud," let us together raise our voices in a great prayer for peace, imploring God to send his holy messengers to again proclaim the message of peace on Earth.
-- Nancy Murray is a Catholic catechist and retreat facilitator. She attends Christ the King Church in Richland and blogs at at www.CatholicEthics.blogspot.com. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email lluginbill@tricity herald.com.